For those with the legs to climb without a granny ring, a single-ring system’s become de rigueur for all-mountain and trail bikes, and makes for cheaper chainring replacement.
Developments such as clutch derailleurs, wide-range cassettes and narrow-wide chainring profiles have boosted the practicality and security of single chainring drivetrains, but you lose the inherent chain retention offered by the cage of a traditional front derailleur.
If you want to ride aggressively a chain device is a wise idea. It might be a minimalist, lightweight top cage, or a bottom roller too for maximum chain security.
Bashrings add weight, but they do a good job of protecting that expensive narrow-wide chainring you’ve splashed out on. A ‘taco’ mounted to the underside of the backplate is a lighter, cleaner-looking compromise.
The chain devices reviewed here offer our top picks for every riding style.
What to consider when buying a mountain bike chain devices
Bashguard option: Minimalist guides can look appealing, but new chainrings are expensive, so some form of bashguard is a wise move as long as weight isn’t your ultimate concern.
Mounts: ISCG mounts (found around the bottom bracket shell) are the simplest and most secure fitting for your chain device. Not all frames are equipped with them so check before you buy.
Security: Guides with a bottom roller or slider add a degree of weight and drag on the chain, but the increased wrap-around offers the ultimate in chain security.
Materials: Cheaper guides often use low-grade plastics, which make them prone to cracking. A pricier guide might not look much different, but your money might well be going into more durable materials.
Maintenance: Plastic is widely used in chain devices, but some chemical cleaners can cause them to become brittle, so check the manufacturer’s website for warnings and advice.
Best mountain bike chain devices
Funn Zippa (32–38T)
£100 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
Funn’s Zippa chainguide bears more than a passing resemblance to e*thirteen’s excellent LG1+, which is no bad thing.
Funn’s guides might be relatively under-represented out on the trails, but the Zippa gives nothing away in terms of quality, and comes in cheaper than its familiar cousin. The anodised gold and red hardware won’t make a difference when the going gets rough, but out of the box it certainly adds to the impression of quality alongside the neatly milled backplate and cut-away taco bashguard.
Unfortunately, the hardware isn’t captive, and had a habit of falling out when swinging the top guide open. The 32-38T sizing is a nod towards use on downhill bikes, but with a weight falling well under 200g there’s no reason why it shouldn’t grace an aggressive trail bike either.
The anodised aluminium lower roller made a slight rumbling noise during use, which was exaggerated when we were riding at the top of the cassette on steep climbs. If mainly gravity-based riding is your thing it could prove to be an excellent option, but if you prefer to pedal to the top then you might find yourself wishing for a quieter, lighter alternative.
Verdict: A solid guide for gravity use, but not the most refined
Hope IBR chainring (32T) and Finger Guide ISCG05 (32-36T)
- Chainring £50 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Fingerguide: £70 / US$TBC / AU$N/A
Weight IBR chainring 62g, Finger Guide 56g
Hope’s Integrated Bash Ring is an interesting concept, and can be paired with the Finger chainguide for a secure drivetrain, as the chain is sandwiched between the guide and bashring.
The machining on the IBR is as exquisite as you would expect from Hope, and produces a very light setup when combined with the minimalist guide. Unfortunately, when the chainring wears out the bashring becomes useless too, with a replacement cost that isn’t too attractive.
After initial setup that was made simple by the included instructions, we had some chain retention issues, but narrowed them down to the standard tooth profile on the chainring. When we tried the guide with a separate bashring and a narrow-wide chainring, chain retention was no longer an issue.
It’s slightly heavier than the original IBR setup, but this system makes sense in terms of replacement cost, while still allowing the chainguide to do its thing. Hope tells us it’s released a new guide with an enclosed top cage and no bashring, which should pair well with its narrow-wide retainer ring.
Verdict: Replacement cost and no narrow-wide profile of the IBR lose it marks
Straitline Silent Guide (34-36T)
£115 / US$167.50 / AU$229.99
Straitline’s Silent Guide has been around for a few years, and made a name for itself as a no-frills, fit-and-forget chainguide.
It isn’t cheap, but for your money you are getting a beautifully CNCed bashring as well. That machining isn’t just for show. At under 200g including the bashring and mounting hardware, the Silent Guide is light considering the protection it provides.
Setting it up was relatively straightforward, as with all the guides in this test, and inside the presentation box there's a laminated card with diagrams and instructions to get you started. Once fitted, it was surprising just how quiet the Silent Guide was. It’s easy to be drawn to the guide with the most bearings and rollers to catch your eye, but those small pieces of nylon bring very little in the way of friction to your drivetrain. When they do wear out, replacements come in five different hues for the co-ordination fanatics.
As it’s a top and bottom guide, we hoped to have no chain retention issues, and in that respect the guide lived up to our expectations. The only drawback of the design is its dependence on a bashring for chain security, which traps dirt close to the chain and makes the Silent Guide a pricey option.
Verdict: The Silent Guide is simple and solid, but dependent on a bashring
Gamut P30 Dual (22-36T)
£100 / US$139.99 / AU$N/A
One-by drivetrains might be getting all the attention nowadays, but for many riders a double chainring offers higher top speeds while keeping the granny ring as an ace up the sleeve for tough climbs.
Gamut hasn’t let the development of its dual ring guide lag behind its more popular single ring options, and the P30 has been updated to use a nylon slider in place of the previous stepped roller. The included instructions made installation simple, aided by the fact that both the backplate and the nylon slider can be spaced out independently using the supplied washers.
The biggest surprise was just how easily the chain slid from one side to the other with front derailleur shifts. There was very little noticeable drag or noise added to the system. The polycarbonate bashguard is more likely to make ground contact given the larger chainring diameters of the average dual-ring setup, and the reinforced eyelets prevent cracking caused by over-torquing of chainring bolts.
An extended lip on the outside edge of the slider might allow for a bashring-free design, which would get rid of the P30’s habit of collecting mud around the chainrings.
Verdict: Reluctant to part with your granny ring? Gamut has got you covered
E*Thirteen XCX-ST direct mount (32-42T)
£90 / US$TBC/ AU$159
e*thirteen is a well-established expert when it comes to keeping your chain where it should be.
This is the direct mount incarnation of its top guide, which bolts directly to D-type front derailleur mounts. Incredibly easy to set up, the chainline is adjustable by 3mm using the included shims, and the plastic guide swings open to allow easy chainring removal and installation. The quality of construction and materials is second to none. Cheaper plastics often result in a cracked cage, but e*thirteen guides seem indestructible.
Used with a narrow-wide chainring, retention wasn’t an issue and we quickly forgot that it was there, which is a compliment for a chainguide if ever there was one. The white plastic became dulled by ground-in oil and dirt, but a black option is also available.
The guide is a great example of simple functionality, but there’s always a catch – in this case the price. If you can stomach the outlay, the XCX follows e*thirteen’s usual focused approach to quality and function.
Verdict: The XCX-ST is hard to beat, as long as you can afford the initial cost
MRP AMG (28-34T) – best on test
£90 / US$105 / AU$148.95
MRP has done its homework with the AMG, which manages to straddle the middle ground of modern chain devices, giving security and protection without any unnecessary (and weighty) extras.
It is one of relatively few guides that offer a taco bashguard without the extra baggage of a lower guide, which in a world of clutch-equipped derailleurs have become all but obsolete on bikes that aren’t being used for competitive downhilling.
The weight is reasonable considering the added protection of the taco, while the 28-32T size range makes a nod towards the smaller chainring sizes commonly used on the current crop of long-travel 29ers. The top guide is slightly narrower than that on the e*thirteen and Funn guides, although setting up a rub-free chain was as simple as with any other guide here.
The taco itself was lucky enough not to take any large impacts during our test period, but the strength of polycarbonate bashguards is already well established.
The only downside is the white plastic guide and taco, which quickly became dirty with ground-in grime. Luckily, a black option is available too.
Verdict: Ticks all the boxes for a modern 1x transmission, at a reasonable price
Tester says: It’s great to see the many small improvements to drivetrains in recent years. The difficulty used to be picking out one of the few chain devices that was worth the money, now it’s a case of choosing one that suits your needs and riding style from the plethora available. The combination of a top guide and taco bashguard seems an ideal setup when combined with a clutch derailleur and narrow-wide chainring.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.